Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Platform for the Revolution

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Dec 19, 2006

In a two part article, The Revolution Misses You (Part One, Part Two) Zack Exley argues that we need an economic revolution - but states that people have to work in order to make it happen. "But right now, without econ PhDs, without industrial leaders, without scientist sages, we'll just have to get this process started ourselves. Come back for the next post and we will."

Exley makes it sound as though nobody has thought about the problems and that nobody has proposed solutions. This "I asked a girl and she didn't know" dodge is as old as the hills. I would expect that young supporters of capitalism aren't well versed in economic theory either.

But in any case, numerous solutions and policy points have been advocated. I might add that thousands (or more) of economists, scientists and even business people are working across a broad front of NGOs, public agencies, and as private citizens, in support of this new agenda. The press may treat them as though they don't exist. But the proposals are nonetheless made.

Let's look at the WTO talks specifically. On the ground, the response you would most often get if you were not cherry-picking your interviewees is that world trade liberalization must go hand in hand with would standards on environment and labour. It helps nobody if people in democracies are required to compete with what essentially amounts to slave labour managed by dictators.

A more sophisticated approach - and the issue that caused the collapse of the WTO talks in Mexico - was the issue of subsidies. To over simplify, the rich nations want to eliminate subsidies in areas where they are strong, such as manufacturing or cultural industries, and to keep them where developing nations have a chance to compete, such as in agriculture. The developing nations want the principle of subsidies applied equally. And who can blame them?

More recently we have seen the activism of the Live 8 concerts and the associated movement designed to eliminate poverty. One of the major reforms advanced by this organization focuses around debt relief. This is especially important for developing nations. After their U.S. or Soviet sponsored dictators absconded with the state treasury, the poor nations were left holding the bag. Debt relief and debt elimination would go a long way toward reversing their fortunes.

Another matter has been raised regarding the hold speculators have over money markets; this was indeed the primary cause of the collapse referenced in the article. Global free trade has always countenanced the unrestricted mobility of global capital, but this has allowed speculators to hold nations hostage (and, of course, global free trade has never contemplated a corresponding free movement of people, who must continue to be held hostage behind nationalist fences). People working against this have proposed reforms such as those adopted by Chile, while slow down this global movement of money.

Advocates have also directed their attention toward the IMF and the World Bank. These agencies, paying homage to capitalist principles, have insisted that recipient countries cut social programs dramatically in order to qualify for debt servicing support. opponents have argued that the development of a social infrastructure, including some level of income support, is necessary in order to give these countries the stability they need to survive and to lower the corruption that hinders economic activity.

Countries that have opposed these conditions have been treated as pariahs by world economic markets and their client governments and media. Consider how nations such as Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia are treated by the media. Consider how even simple measures, such as the adoption of open source by governments in Brazil and Peru have been countered by commercial software companies and their governments.

Indeed, commercial intervention into foreign national economies through force of arms and other disruptive tactics is only now coming to the fore. A film like Blood Diamond comes years after the Kimberly declaration. But the fostering of insurrection and armed conflict over other resources continues. Activists do not forget the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria over oil leases, even if the media does. And of course capitalist intervention in the middle east occupies everyone's minds these days.

Of course this imply points back to a respect for rights and freedoms. The unfettered exercise of capitalism is essentially a license for corporations to disregard any of the hard-won victories for the people over the years. From simple things, such as Wal-Mart's union-bashing activities in Quebec, Canada, to the labour camps described in Klein's No Logo and elsewhere, the corporate agenda has been harmful wherever it has landed.

The right to freedom also characterizes many of the economic agendas that have operated in the online community. There is a large and expressive open source movements that has railed against such things as software and business method patents as economically ruinous. An additional community lobbies extensively for open access to educational and research materials, reasoning that this work, funded by taxes levied on the people, properly belongs to the people.

Activists are also opposing the privatization of community knowledge, privatization in the form of genetic and other life patents, commercialization of cultural property and other artifacts, the withholding of life-saving AIDS and other drugs, and in general, the committing to the private market the combined public property of the world. This ongoing privatization is an enormous transfer of wealth that benefits only those who are already wealthy, while furthering the impoverishment of those who are poor.

On a more local front, anyone who looks will find no end to solutions being proposed. In Canada, for example, we have the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, an economic think-tank devoted to progressive and humanitarian economic policy (of course, our media cites the radical right wing Fraser Institute on an almost daily basis, while completely ignoring the much more qualified CCAP).

This organization, and others like it, advocate for measures that protect people from economic disaster. In Canada, for example, the CCAP (along with numerous other organizations) supports our piublic health care program that protects families from losing their homes and their livlihoods due to illness. Additional income support programs, such as unemployment insurance and welfare, form a substantial safety net (it is easy to criticize such programs - easy, that is, until visiting the slums of nations that do not have them).

In a similar light, advocates for public education continue to prevail in some nations, opposing the ruination of the system that is being fostered by capitalist privateers promoting a cornucopia of charter schools, vouchers, management firm and outright sales. It is incredible that the education of the next generation would be left in the hands of people whose bottom line is the profits to be gained, but this is the norm in the developing world and increasingly the norm elsewhere.

To say that no solutions have been proposed is a blatant falsehood. To say, even, that the common anti-WTO demonstrator has no grasp of these issues is probably also misrepresentative. The preceeding has been only a short summary of the alternative approach for a just world economic order. The detailed programs exist, and millions of people are working toward them worldwide, hindered by those very economists who scoff at the egalitarian dreams of a little girl.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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